S.S. Astro: Asashio Sogo Teachers’ Room, Volume 1

S.S. Astro, Volume 1Creator: Negi Banno
U.S. publisher: Yen Press
ISBN: 9780759528987
Released: August 2008
Original release: 2007

S.S. Astro: Asashio Sogo Teachers’ Room is a yonkoma, or four-panel, manga created by Negi Banno. The first volume of S.S. Astro was originally published in Japan in 2007. Yen Press released the English translation of the manga in 2008, around the same time that it was licensing several other yonkoma manga series. As for S.S. Astro, only one volume was ever released. As far as I can tell, the series has been on hiatus since 2007 in Japan. Although I believe that Banno has created more S.S. Astro strips than those found in the first volume, there have not been enough to collect into a second volume. I have no idea if Banno plans to ever return to the S.S. Astro manga, but because so many years have passed it seems increasingly unlikely. S.S. Astro was actually one of the first yonkoma manga that I ever read. I originally came across it a few years back while searching for manga in English with yuri elements, which used to be a little more difficult to find than it is now.

Seven years after she graduated, Izumi Maki is back at her old high school. Except this time she’s one of the ones responsible for molding the young minds of Tokyo’s Asashio Integrated Public High School. It’s her first year as a teacher. Maki’s now in charge of both health and physical education classes, not to mention a home room with nearly forty students. (Now she just somehow needs to find a way to remember all of their names.) Maki’s not the only fresh blood at Asashio. Her good friend Yuko Nagumo, the new Japanese instructor, is also a first year teacher. The nursing teacher Setsuna Arai has a couple of years of experience on them and Maki’s backup teacher Kaname Karasuma, the instructor for the school’s English course, has even more. She also has a huge crush on Maki, not that Maki has noticed. Throw in all of the other teachers and their quirks, as well as Maki’s older brother, and high school is just as entertaining and complicated as it was the first time around.

Yonkoma manga tend to be fairly hit-or-miss for me, but in the case of S.S. Astro it’s mostly a hit. As with many four-panel manga, whether or not someone actually likes the series will depend on whether or not the reader likes the characters as they are. Although there are plenty of running jokes in S.S. Astro, the series tends to be episodic without much of an overarching plot and very little in the way of character development. Fortunately, I do like the characters. Quite a bit, actually. Maki’s a scatterbrain but earnest. Nagumo can put away an impressive amount of food and is closet fujoshi. Arai has a delightfully sadistic streak. Of the four main characters, Karasuma is the most responsible one, at least when she isn’t completely lovestruck. About halfway through the first volume of S.S. Astro the rest of the Asashio staff are more thoroughly introduced. Prior to that they were largely relegated to the background. I like the other teachers as well and wish more time could have been spent getting to know them better, too.

Quite a few manga licensed in English take place in a school setting. What helps to set S.S. Astro apart is that it focuses on the teachers rather than on the students. I find this to be a refreshing change of pace. One of the reasons that I’m particularly fond of S.S. Astro is that the manga focuses on the adults and their lives and relationships. Granted, the main cast are all relatively young and still in their twenties, but there are some older characters as well. Maki and the others can be immature at times, but in the end they are adults with adult responsibilities. Which is not to say there isn’t room for fun in S.S. Astro; being an adult has its perks, too. Video games, drinking parties, and a little bit of workplace romance (straight and otherwise) all have their place in the series. The artwork tends to be rather cute, too. In general, I find S.S. Astro to be fun and funny. S.S. Astro may not be a manga that I go out of my way to recommend to people, but it is one that I quite enjoy. I only wish that there was more of it.

Spice & Wolf, Volume 8: Town of Strife I

Author: Isuna Hasekura
Illustrator: Jyuu Ayakura

Translator: Paul Starr
U.S. publisher: Yen Press
ISBN: 9780316245463
Released: April 2013
Original release: 2008

Town of Strife I is the eighth volume in Isuna Hasekura’s light novel series Spice & Wolf, illustrated by Jyuu Ayakura. The previous volume, Side Colors, was actually a collection of three side stories; Town of Strife I picks up the story immediately following Spice & Wolf, Volume 6. As indicated by its title, Town of Strife I is the first part of a two-volume story, a first for Spice & Wolf. Town of Strife I was originally published in Japan in 2008. Paul Starr’s English translation of the novel was released by Yen Press in 2013. Spice & Wolf is a series that I have been enjoying much more than I thought I would. Although I wasn’t particularly taken with most of Side Colors, I was interested in getting back to the main story again with Town of Strife I.

Having had quite the adventure on the Roam River, Kraft Lawrence, a traveling merchant, and Holo the Wisewolf, a centuries-old spirit in the form of a young woman, have finally made their way to the port town of Kerube with a new companion in in tow—Col, a young student they encountered along the river. Together the three of them are following a curious rumor: a search is on for the bones of a northern town’s guardian deity. Many people think the story is some far fetched fairytale, but Lawrence, Holo, and Col know very well that there could be some truth behind the rumors. Upon their arrival at Kerube Lawrence seeks the aid of Eve, a former noblewoman and a skilled merchant in her own right. He’s been burned once before in his dealings with her, but Eve’s impressive network of connections may be their best chance of finding the bones.

One of the things that I have always enjoyed about Spice & Wolf is the relationship and developing romance between Lawrence and Holo. By this point in the series, Lawrence has lost some of his awkwardness when it comes to Holo. While I suppose this means he’s grown as a character, I do miss the more easily embarrassed Lawrence. With the addition of Col to the mix, the dynamics of Holo and Lawrence’s relationship has also changed. Their battles of wits and their good-natured bickering and teasing which once seemed so natural now feel forced as if the two of them are putting on some sort of performance for the boy. More often than not, Holo and Lawrence are verbally sparring for show in Town of Strife I and it’s not nearly as entertaining. Ultimately I do like Col (everyone in Spice & Wolf likes Col), but his presence in the story is somewhat distracting.

Not much happens in Town of Strife I; it mostly seems to be setting up for the second volume in the story arc. Hasekura promises that Lawrence will get to be “really cool” in the next volume and Town of Strife I does end on a great cliffhanger, but I’m not sure that I’m actually interested in finding out what happens. Unfortunately, the series has finally lost its charm for me. The characters know one another so well and their conversations are so cryptic that the story is difficult to follow. The narrative lacks sufficient detail and explanations leaving readers to puzzle out the characters’ motivations and actions. This has always been the case with Spice & Wolf but what makes it particularly frustrating in Town of Strife I is that the volume doesn’t even have a satisfying ending and doesn’t stand well on its own. Hasekura claims that he needed two volumes to tell this particular story, but considering how tedious much of Town of Strife I is, I’m not convinced.

Guest Post: The Infernal Devices Vol 1: Clockwork Angel: Manga Review

Not too long ago I reviewed The Infernal Devices, Volume 1: Clockwork Angel, HyeKyung Baek’s graphic novel adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s novel by the same name. While I am familiar with The Infernal Devices, I haven’t actually read any of the original trilogy. I do, however, know people who have and thought it might be interesting to get another perspective on the work. And so I decided to bribe my good friend Traci with manga in exchange for her thoughts on the adaptation. The video below (a first for Experiments in Manga) is the result. I’m extremely excited that she agreed and am very pleased to welcome Traci to Experiments in Manga!

Hello, all. My name is Traci and I am the mastermind behind the alwynuu channel and Traci Reads vlog on YouTube. I am a photographer by passion and trade and a wanderer, philosopher, and reader by desire and happenstance. I enjoy most things geeky and nerdy, odd literary adaptations, and any genre that includes some form of magic or supernatural business. Don’t be shy. Drop in on occasion and see what I’ve gotten up to and where I’ve wandered.

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The Infernal Devices, Volume 1: Clockwork Angel

Creator: HyeKyung Baek
Original story: Cassandra Clare

Publisher: Yen Press
ISBN: 9780316200981
Released: October 2012

The Infernal Devices is a three-volume series of novels written by Cassandra Clare as a sort of prequel to her popular and longer series The Mortal Instruments. Now, I actually haven’t read either series myself, but because of their popularity and the fact that my youngest sister and some of my close acquaintances devour the novels, I am not entirely unfamiliar with them. I took notice when Yen Press announced that The Infernal Devices had been selected to receive a manga-style graphic novel adaptation. Manhwa artist HyeKyung Baek is adapting and illustrating The Infernal Devices for Yen Press. I’m not familiar with Baek’s previous work, but Yen Press has published her series Bring It On! and she is also working on Yen Press’ Gossip Girl adaptations. Clockwork Angel, the first volume of The Infernal Devices graphic novels which adapts the first novel of the original trilogy, was released in 2012.

After the death of the aunt who was looking after her, Tessa Gray leaves New York to join her brother Nathaniel in London. Upon her arrival she is almost immediately abducted. While being held captive by the Dark sisters, Tessa learns something she never knew about herself—she’s a shape-changer and not quite human. Suddenly, she’s thrust into a supernatural world of vampires, warlocks, and werewolves. And then there are the Shadowhunters—the Nephilim—who fight against the demonic forces that exist in the world. The Shadowhunters have taken a great interest in Tessa, as well, and take her in after rescuing her. She becomes particularly close with two young Shadowhunters, but Will and Jem both hide their own secrets. Tess isn’t the only one having a hard time in London, either; her brother has also disappeared. The only family she has left, Tessa will do everything she can to find him.

Since I haven’t read the original Clockwork Angel, I can’t really comment on how the graphic novel compares or even works as an adaptation. However, I do get the impression that readers who are already familiar with The Infernal Devices novels will be able to appreciate the graphic novel more than those who are not. Despite the often text-heavy adaptation, the magic system and mythology of Clockwork Angel is never thoroughly explained, which left me somewhat confused in places. The storytelling is a bit uneven as well, most likely the result of trying to incorporate too much of the original volume into a single graphic novel. But one of the things that frustrated me the most was that part of the reasoning behind the nefarious plots and schemes in Clockwork Angel was something that wasn’t even hinted at until it was reveled during the climatic final battle. The complete lack of lead-up irked me immensely.

But not all is bad in the Clockwork Angel graphic novel adaptation. I particularly appreciated the clever uses of Tessa’s shape-changing abilities. The graphic novel might be a little heavy on the dialogue, but there are some great one-liners, too. (However, the humor sometimes feels a bit out of place in what is predominantly a dark story.) At this point I’m not entirely convinced by the potential romance between Tessa and Will, but they do have some of the more interesting character interactions. Jem and Tessa have some great moments, too. But to be honest, Jem and Will’s stories interest me much more than Tessa’s. While some of Jem’s secrets have been revealed in Clockwork Angel, Will is still something of an enigma. I can’t say that the Clockwork Angel graphic novel has inspired me to seek out future volumes or even the original novels, but I am left intensely curious about Will. The graphic novel is choppy, but Clockwork Angel can be engaging and it ends with quite a hook.

Spice & Wolf, Volume 7: Side Colors

Author: Isuna Hasekura
Illustrator: Jyuu Ayakura

Translator: Paul Starr
U.S. publisher: Yen Press
ISBN: 9780316229128
Released: December 2012
Original release: 2008

Side Colors is the seventh volume in Isuna Hasekura’s light novel series Spice & Wolf, illustrated by Jyuu Ayakura. The volume is actually a break from the main series and collects three side stories together. The novella “The Boy and the Girl and the White Flowers” and the short story “The Red of the Apple, The Blue of the Sky” were first released online. The second short story, “Wolf and Amber Melancholy,” was written specifically for the collection. Side Colors was originally published in Japan in 2008. Yen Press’ English edition, translated by Paul Starr, was released in 2012. I am actually rather surprised by how much I have been enjoying the Spice & Wolf novels; I find that I am quite fond of the two leads—Lawrence and Holo. Since I have been following the series, it made sense that I would pick up the seventh volume.

Side Colors, begins with “The Boy and the Girl and the White Flowers,” which takes up the first half or so of the volume. Klass and Aryes, a young boy and girl, have recently been evicted from their home when a new lord takes over after the previous lord dies, apparently without publicly naming an heir. Their journey isn’t an easy one and they are about to run out of food when they are approached by Holo, a wolf spirit, in the form of a young woman. The story takes place centuries before Holo meets Lawrence. It is probably because of that that “The Boy and the Girl and the White Flowers” was my least favorite story in Side Colors. Simply put, I missed Lawrence. But the story does show a younger Holo, one who hasn’t yet been overwhelmed by a melancholy loneliness and who acts much more as a trickster character. Granted, she has always been and still is mischievous.

Happily, Lawrence is in both of the short stories included in Side Colors. “The Red of the Apple, The Blue of the Sky” takes place during the first volume of Spice & Wolf, not long after Holo and Lawrence started traveling together. Of the three stories collected in the volume, this story most closely fits the mold established by the Spice & Wolf series proper and includes economic elements as a part of its plot. However, my favorite story in Side Colors is the final one, “Wolf and Amber Melancholy,” which takes place during Spice & Wolf, Volume 2. Unlike the rest of Spice & Wolf, which is primarily told from Lawrence’s point of view, this story is seen from Holo’s perspective. It’s a refreshing change and it’s clear that Hasekura had a tremendous amount of fun writing it.

Technically, Side Colors is written in such a way that doesn’t require much previous knowledge of Spice & Wolf. But at the same time, I’m not sure that the collection would actually appeal to someone who isn’t already a fan of or at least familiar with the series. The stories really aren’t that strong outside of the context of the novels. Because of this, “The Boy and the Girl and the White Flower” is probably the weakest of the three vignettes since it is the furthest removed form the series proper. Both “The Red of the Apple, The Blue of the Sky” and “Wolf and Amber Melancholy” read like they could be deleted scenes from their respective volumes. Although I wouldn’t say any of the stories are essential reading, they do make a nice addition to the Spice & Wolf series.